Now that’s better. No excuses about the opposition, that it didn’t matter, or that they should have had a corner in the 32nd minute, had a key defender out or that the weather suited a northern team (it didn’t) – City were deserved winners, in possibly their best performance of the season. The next week will tell us more, but as in past seasons the team is finding momentum after a period of play lacking inspiration – history repeating itself?
More whinging at the line-up online. No Milner again, who is now regarded on the same level as Lionel Messi. Only joking, but the inclusion of Navas irked some as expected. Mangala was preferred once more above Demichelis. Whilst not all individuals had brilliant games, Pellegrini’s choices proved right in the end. Also, whether Mangala is better than Demichelis right now is not the only factor to consider, as City’s indifferent defensive performances could be at least partly remedied in my opinion by playing a settled defence week-in, week-out. For this reason, Mangala and Kompany should be the choice of partnership, as they are the future of the team. As it turned out, that’s another plan scuppered, for now.
And so to the match. The pessimist in me would have taken a draw before kick-off, perhaps taken in by the Southampton hype, but also wary of how City tend to play terribly against Southampton. Southampton started the match with the meanest defence, and as biggest scorers at home, though admittedly almost half of those goals were against a Sunderland team that had downed tools. The team started well though, dominating possession without creating enough chances. It was all City though, and then there was a penalty incident.
There’s little I can add about the yellow card for Aguero. It was as clear a penalty as you could hope to see, and to caution Kun simply added insult to injury. Referees are human and make mistakes, but I fail to comprehend how the Premier League’s worst referee watched play unfold and didn’t see a player scythed down. It probably reeks of paranoia on my part, but can you recall a similar incident befalling another team? I can’t.
The ridiculous thing is that the defender Fonte knew it was a foul, as he desperately tried to con the referee that the foul was outside the area. Everyone in the ground knew, everyone watching knew, bar the match official and a WUM Talksport presenter. The referee even gave the free-kick to Southampton outside the area. Hey, if you’re going to cock up, there’s no point in half-measures.
He then tried his best to better his early howler. He pulled City back when attacking the penalty area, for a Southampton offside, ignored another clear foul on Aguero outside their area and then gave a goal-kick to City after Joe Hart kicked the ball behind following Southampton’s best chance. Incompetence on a grand scale.
Stan Collymore. I’ve often said that if you choose to listen to Talksport then you have little reason to complain when they spout their inane drivel in a desperate attempt to get people to call in, and I gave up following Stan on Twitter a few months ago as he was just too much to handle. Amazingly virtually any football incident can split views however obvious things may appear to you. City’s penalty appeal was one of those rare occasions where there was simply nothing to debate – it was so clear that you only need a pulse and at least a couple of brain cells to comprehend that. Even a pulse is optional. Not for Stan though, who somehow thinks that a penalty is not a penalty if a player’s arms don’t act in a certain way as he is chopped to the ground. And as sure as night follows day, some dimwit on Twitter will message him to express his support, which of course Stan will them retweet, as he only retweets those that agree with him or those commenting on how wonderful he is. I’m sure it got him a few more calls, so job done. If you follow him on Twitter, or Adrian Durham for that matter, then you only have yourself to blame. It wouldn’t surprise me if Barry Glendenning completes the Talksport hat trick on the Guardian podcast this week by somehow using the match to criticise City’s support again.
After that, City somewhat lost their grip on the game. One glorious chance went begging for each side, as City’s defence went walkabout, but at half-time I was quietly satisfied – the team had played quite well.
As the second half it was a superb performance from the Citizens, who even managed to add two goals after going down to ten men. You must be a pretty good team to do that, eh? Apart from the odd dangerous cross, and a couple of shots flashing comfortably wide, Southampton were restricted offensively, and City picked them off as they pushed forward at the end.
As for Yaya’s goal, there was the proof of what can happen if a team actually shoots instead of trying to walk the ball into the net. More low, hard shots please.
Man of the match? Perhaps Fernandinho, who is rediscovering his mojo. Aguero had one of “those days”, but had two assists and should of course had a penalty. Unfortunately for him he missed from three yards out and missed a one-on-one by rather telegraphing where he was going, but he was unplayable at times once more.
Frank, Frank, Frank. One of my favourite players in the Premier League’s history, I was not too bothered when he turned up at City, my view being that his best days were comfortably behind him, but even after factoring in my man-crush, he has surprised me. Five goals in limited time, he has shown he still has “it”, a typical finish from him showing that he still has so much to offer, especially with Yaya on leave in the New Year. A class act, and him wearing the blue of City has wound up Chelsea fans so much it’s a win-win situation.
I know it’s an expression which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, almost a, erm what’s the word now (?),but City’s left-back is called Clichy, Glenn Hoddle. It’s really not difficult. Anyway, you know it’s been a good game when he scores, the third of his career, after a beautiful counter-attack.
Hart’s distribution still terrible at times, as is his habit of punching catchable balls. He did his job again though.
And then there was Mangala. His red card will give plenty the excuse to continue the scapegoating that has followed after his shaky start to life at City, but he should shoulder little blame this time around. He played pretty well, and his second yellow was a classic case of taking one for the team. Yaya Toure left him in a hole, and he made an instant decision as to whether to prevent a goal-scoring chance at 1-0 up with 15 minutes left. All of this compels me to mention Neil Ashton over at the Daily Mail, who in a blatant example of click-baiting, decided to award Mangala 1/10, accompanied by the sort of joke rejected by Christmas cracker manufacturers. Par for the course, just another week in the strange world of football journalism.
Jovetic frustrated once more though, the forward not showing the form I expected once more. Navas too wasn’t overly-effective, but he did a great defensive shift along with Nasri that totally blunted Southampton’s marauding full-backs. The players really put a shift in from beginning to end.
Unfortunately City now face a defensive crisis. Kompany injured himself celebrating the final goal (#typicalcity) and Mangala will be suspended for the Sunderland game (more if he has reached five cards for the season?). Nastastic is persona non grata so it looks like Demichelis and Boyata in the short term. Rejoice. Thank god it’s only Sunderland away next, eh?
Final update on Joe Hart’s moustache (sad face): Recent developments have now led to Joe resembling a World War Two pilot. Tally ho!
So City remain two points better off than this time last year. Only time will tell if we are gaining momentum again, with the ultimate bogey team up next, a team who superbly restricted Chelsea at the weekend. The gap on the leaders has been reduced, City are up to second, and the title race has for now flickered back into life. A big week lies ahead.